A Short History of the Highrise
A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive documentary that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and issues of social equality. It’s joint effort between the New York Times Op Docs and The National Film Board of Canada, and is the latest instalment in Kat Cizek and the NFB’s epic documentary series HIGHRISE.
The key idea was to use The New York Times archives as the primary source material to create an interactive documentary film. In 2013, the documentary won the George Foster Peabody Award, in addition to an Emmy and First Prize at the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards in 2014.
The centrepiece of the project is four short films. For the first three (Mud, Concrete and Glass), director Kat Cizek pieced together an intricate story by drawing on The New York Time’s extraordinary visual archives. Affectionately called The Morgue, the archive is a repository of millions of photographs that, for the most part, haven’t been seen in decades.
Over a period of several months we used every trick in our book to help bring these incredible photographs to life. Most stills were retouched with foreground and background elements split into different layers. These were then animated with a parallax effect in order to give the illusion of depth. Others were mapped onto 3D planes and shattered to make it seem like the image was crumbling.
Since much of the subject matter is visually similar (buildings of all shapes and sizes) we needed to constantly develop new ways to animate the photos in order to have the overall piece not seem repetitive.
NYT art-director and coder-extraordinaire, Jacky Myint, with input from Helios, created an interactive experience that incorporates the films into a visual accordion, allowing viewers to dig deeper into the project’s themes with additional archival materials, text and micro-games. Innovative use of cutting edge technologies like WebAudio, image sequencing, and a mobile-first coding approach provides a rich audio-visual experience across a wide variety of devices and platforms.